Schoenmaker: SA’s breaststroke jewel

In the second of a series on the elite SA athletes striving to carry the flag at the 2024 Olympics, Team SA looks at swimming star Tatjana Schoenmaker. Schoenmaker... Read more
Schoenmaker: SA's breaststroke jewel

In the second of a series on the elite SA athletes striving to carry the flag at the 2024 Olympics, Team SA looks at swimming star Tatjana Schoenmaker.

Schoenmaker exceeded her own expectations at the Olympics in Tokyo last year by winning gold in the 200-metre breaststroke in world-record fashion and silver in the 100-metre breaststroke after setting an Olympic record in the heats.

Despite having contemplated giving up swimming after missing out on 2016 Olympic qualification by one-hundredth of a second, she entered last year’s Games as the No 1 seed and favourite to win the 200-metre breaststroke.

Schoenmaker lived up to that billing by setting a new Olympic record of 2:19.16 in the heats and was ranked first heading into the final after swimming 2:19.33 in the semi-finals.

She saved her best for when it mattered most, with her time of 2:18.95 shattering an eight-year world record. By beating highly-rated American Lilly King, Schoenmaker became the first South African female swimmer to win an Olympic gold medal in 25 years since Penny Heyns’ two gold medals at the 1996 Atlanta Games in the 100-metre and 200-metre breaststroke.

“It still hasn’t really sunk in!” an elated Schoenmaker said afterwards. “I don’t wish my Olympic dream was over, but I am really excited to just go and celebrate, even being at the Olympics, with my parents.”

Three days earlier, Schoenmaker had come close to winning gold in the 100-metre breaststroke. She set a new Olympic record of 1:04.82 in the heats, beating King’s 1:04.93 set at the Rio Games four years earlier, and was ranked first heading into the final. But a time of 1:05.22 was only good enough for silver as America’s Lydia Jacoby swam 1:04.95.

Schoenmaker exploded onto the swimming scene with double gold in the women’s 100-metre and 200-metre breaststroke at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Four years later, she arrived in Birmingham as an Olympic champion.

She finished fourth in the 50-metre breaststroke, before defending her 200-metre title in a time of 2:21.92 after leading the race from start to finish. She had to settle for silver in the 100-metre event but was clearly over the moon for countrywoman Lara van Niekerk, who won gold.

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Schoenmaker will go into the 2024 Paris Games looking to emulate Heyns by winning both the Olympic 100-metre and 200-metre breaststroke.

“I’ve always said that I would want to take my own path, not trying to take Penny off the map. She’ll never be off the map,” Schoenmaker said. “So just to at least get close to her achievements would be amazing.”

Given what Schoenmaker has achieved over the past two years, you wouldn’t bet against her once again exceeding her own expectations.

Photo: Anton Geyser/SASPA/SASI

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